For all of our British reserve, more and more of us have taken to socialising, bonding or wooing while wearing nothing more than a swimsuit and robe. Spa is fast replacing the pub or coffee shop as a neutral meeting space for friends, family members, even work colleagues. With so many great two-for-one deals, it can even cost less than a meal out. The great thing about spa is that you can talk for a bit, then – when you have run out of proverbial steam – wander off to immerse yourself in some real steam, or take yourself off for a swim or a treatment. Who you take with you may dictate your spa day. You’re probably not going to want to book a mud rasul and double treatment room with your work colleague, for example. Equally, you probably don’t want to be sharing a Jacuzzi with a group of golfers on what was supposed to be your romantic anniversary weekend.
Savant Spy says: Spa-ing with your mum doesn’t just have to be for Mothers’ Day. I did it recently, and it was so nice spending time with my mum on her own. My inner eternal child enjoyed not having to vie for her attention over the dog, dad, siblings or grandchildren. I got it all. And she couldn’t tell me to tidy my room either. The fact it was my treat gave me a little bit more power. I think she started to see me as a grown-up – until she told me I had kale between my teeth, or brought me a cup of water in the sauna. Because we’re both very independent women, we ended up going opposite ways around the spa – she doesn’t like sauna or steam rooms, and I don’t like getting my nails done – then meeting up for lunch or on a pool lounger to share our adventures. Usually my mum has made friends with all the staff and most of the fellow guests by the time I see her again, as she greets everyone by their first name and they suddenly know far too much about me…
Summer Spy says: When planning your romantic spa break, you need a spa that controls numbers and has lots of areas where you can sneak off for some time à deux. I’m not talking about time that’s best kept in your room, more time when you can gaze longingly into each other’s eyes. It’s a great idea if you can find a spa that has a private couples' suite. The ones I’ve experienced often have sofas where you can relax, order food, drink champagne and are attached to the double treatment rooms where you both have the same treatment together – it’s about shared experiences that you’ll remember for the rest of your lives. You don’t have to head for a small intimate spa for romance. Lots of larger spas cater for couples, with plenty of romantic nooks and crannies: a waterbed on a balcony overlooking the forest, a love seat in a garden, or, if you really want to push the boat out, an overnight stay in spa suites – lots of spas have lovely add-ons like your own private hot tub or treatments in your room.
Supreme Spy says: What you do on a spa day with a friend depends on the friend. Are you health loving wholesome ladies? Then you might like a thalassotherapy day (which is also fun because of the bubbly pool part, although they are very loud if you want to chat). Most spas cater for the traditionally hedonistic massage/facial plus cream tea with a glass of prosecco. But perhaps you’re a couple of hardcore adventurous types who think a day in a Russian banya being whipped by birch leaves is worth a hilarious anecdote or two. If you really want to spend quality time with a friend – maybe you’re helping her through a difficult time – pick a small, intimate spa where you can just be together. If you are adventurous types, chose one with a magnificent spa journey. I did one of those with a good friend – wandering from steam to sauna to different steam, different sauna, whirlpool, lunch – without stopping our conversational stream for a moment. Oh, except when we were trying to take an outdoor hot-tub selfie; much harder than you think, due to steam, reflective light and dangers of phone destruction, but has to be done.
Stylish Spy says: If you have very small kids, you have to take a lot of things into consideration. While many spas will allow children to use the pool areas, most don’t have access to babysitting services. Like everywhere, you’ll just have to wistfully look at all those lucky people who are actually reading or even sleeping on pool loungers without being interrupted or feeling guilty. Perhaps they’ve just managed to bribe their partner or parent to babysit for a moment… It is worth checking in advance as some spas do have children’s clubs. Really, the easiest way to spa as a new parent is by taking your kids to a brilliant family resort or hotel that happens to have a Five Bubble spa attached. Such places do have babysitting services so everyone will be looked after, including you.
Sybaritic Spy says: I took my teenage daughter to a spa the moment she was old enough – most spas have an over 18 age limit. Teenagers are very body conscious and tend not to like being touched or looked at unless they are able to self-airbrush on Instagram. However, at a certain age, I think it’s good to learn some self-care in the form of a really good massage: a rite of passage as it were, where you learn the value of looking after your body and skin. I had to explain to my daughter about the part where they lower your pants to get to the lower back, and how this is okay in a massage with a female therapist, but if she doesn’t want it to happen we can tell the therapist not to do it. I made sure she had a massage that I had already experienced, so I knew everything was above board. Okay, I’m a bit over-protective, but I wanted her to enjoy it, not be put off for life.
Shy Spy says: Oh joy – the people you work with every day are suddenly going to see your naked thighs. Unless you are a gym bunny who has been preparing for this moment since you were eight years old, or are completely well balanced and body-confident (ie not English), this might be a good time to practise manipulating your towel and robe so that everything below your waist always remains covered or submerged. The main advice here is work out where your barriers are. I was recently asked whether I wanted to enjoy a hammam experience with a colleague; we would have been expected to strip down to just our bikini bottoms and scrubbed. I passed on the offer! But I know other Spa Spies have had a rasul mud chamber together. Work out what you are and are not comfortable with and stick to it. Spas normally have great relaxation rooms, so if all else fails bring your favourite book and spend the afternoon drifting from a poolside lounger to a relaxation armchair. Take it at your own speed.
Age: 46 (and now reversing)
Skin Type Oily/sensitive
Spa Likes Clever, inspiring design, sublime views, a vast, clean and empty pool, solitary relaxation areas to read, write or commune with my muse
Spa Dislikes Small talk, discussions about spirituality or astrology, any products containing tea tree oil or aloe (sadly am allergic), busy pools where you can’t do laps